environment and natural resources


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University researchers working with the People's Republic of China have developed a web-based Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping tool they hope will help solve the massive loss of topsoil on high elevation plateaus in western and northern China.

The online mapping system, part of OSU's Spatial Climate Analysis Service, (http://www.ocs.orst.edu/prism/) and linked to the OSU Forage Information System, (http://forages.oregonstate.edu/), is designed to let users quickly identify grasses and legumes that are best adapted to the climate and soils of a particular geographic location.

The project's sponsors include the Oregon Seed Council and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Market Access Program and Emerging Markets Program.

China is keenly interested in the project because they need grasses that are well-suited to slow the soil erosion that is gradually turning large areas of the country into desert, the researchers say. Enormous dust storms in northern China have blown as far east as the west coast of the United States.

"The Chinese have recognized the degraded condition of many of their semi-arid rangelands since the 1970s," said David Hannaway, OSU Extension forage specialist. "Some of these areas are high plateaus that receive little rain or snowfall and are very cold in the winter. There are too many people and too many animals on these grasslands due to dramatic population growth in China and subsequent demand for increased food production.

"The result has been severe overgrazing that has almost exhausted forage grass resources and led to desertification in marginal areas," Hannaway added.

The challenge for China's land managers is to find forage grass species and varieties that are well-adapted to the extreme climates of these areas and get them established and growing in the shortest possible time, Hannaway explained.

Hannaway and Chris Daly, an OSU climatologist with experience in developing climate maps, began work on creating a 'forage crop selection tool' in the late 1990s with the goal of building an online information system capable of matching forage species growth requirements with the soils and climate characteristics of particular areas. That project has now evolved into the Species Suitability modeling system available online at http://mistral.coas.oregonstate.edu/forages/.

"China's interest in this project was a tremendous opportunity for us because of all the resources they are investing in the agricultural development of these lands," said Daly. "They saw our project as an important step forward in getting erosion problems under control."

A wealth of information on climate, soils and plant species is available from many sources, but it is not always easily accessible, Daly said. The goal of the project has been to put all that information together in one tool that users can easily access via the Internet, he added.

"The dynamic feature of this tool is that it can create new forage species suitability maps when quantitative tolerances for that species are entered," said Daly. "The user designates the area of interest and the tool uses climate and soil maps of the area to show where the forage crop species selected would be most likely to grow successfully."

According to Hannaway, the Chinese want to establish forage grasses over huge areas with a broad range of climate characteristics.

"Because these high plateau areas cover thousands of square miles, it just isn't practical there to conduct on-the-ground planting trials to find out what species of forage grasses are best adapted to the different regions with their varying climates," Hannaway said. "The species suitability mapping tool allows us to take a bit of a short cut in this process.

"It's still necessary to do some planting trials to validate our maps, but we can jump a few steps ahead by letting the mapping tool identify the forage crop species most likely to succeed," he added.

Daly and Hannaway believe the web-based mapping tool may have far-reaching impact.

"Although our project focuses on China, the technology we're using can be configured to work anywhere in the world," said Daly. "This tool has tremendous potential for agricultural and environmental uses in any country where growers or land managers need to find desirable plant species quickly that are well-adapted to local growing conditions."


David Hannaway, 541-737-5863

Programs airing on OPAN to examine salmon issues

CORVALLIS - The Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State University will explore biological, economic, and social issues concerning salmon in the Pacific Northwest on the new Oregon Public Affairs Network (OPAN). Some of Sea Grant's award-winning educational videos will air on OPAN the next three Thursday evenings at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 17, features "Return of the Salmon," a half-hour documentary premiered on Oregon Public Broadcasting and the winner of two national awards. The program offers an overview of causes of the historic decline of salmon populations, importance of watersheds in restoration, and the actions of watershed groups.

The second Thursday, Feb. 24, offers three short videos by Sea Grant. "Life Cycle of the Salmon" captures the story of the salmon's life with images that reveal its world, often from an underwater point of view. In an interview, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber reflects on the biological and cultural importance of salmon, his approach to environmental policy, and his belief that individual Oregonians will make the difference in restoration. In "Salmon: Why Bother?" six concerned Oregonians with varying perspectives answer the title question candidly and personally.

On Thursday, March 3, "Coming Home Was Easy" explores the history and culture of salmon trolling through the recollections of 15 fishermen and women. Their honest, funny, and thoughtful stories put a personal face on the business of fishing. So does historic footage and photographs taken by the trollers themselves, which mixes with contemporary footage in this award-winning documentary.

OPAN is a nonprofit network bringing public issues and government to the living rooms and computer terminals of Oregonians. Modeled after the national C-SPAN network, OPAN is a partnership among OSU, the State Legislative Media Service, Oregon Wireless Instructional Network (WIN) and local cable access centers in Multnomah, Lane, Polk, Linn, Benton and Deschutes counties.

Local cable networks that will broadcast the Sea Grant series include: the Eugene area, Channel 21; Corvallis Channel 27; the Portland area, Channel 29; Monmouth/Independence, Channel 17; Lane and Douglas County areas, Channel 9.

For more information about OPAN programming and for a channel locator with other local times for these salmon programs, see: http://www.opan.org. For more information about Oregon Sea Grant's educational videos and publications, see: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/.


John Greydanus, 541-737-9099

Good news in the forecast? Oregon could face wet spring

CORVALLIS - Oregon's dry winter is bad news for rain lovers, but if history holds true, Pacific Northwest residents may be in for a wet spring.

"Historically, dry winters preceded by a wet fall are very likely to be followed by a wet spring," said George Taylor, an atmospheric scientist at Oregon State University who serves as the state climatologist.

And late last summer, through early fall, it was wet.

Portland was 1.75 inches above normal for August precipitation, hitting 2.68 inches for the month. September actually dipped below normal by 0.62 for the Portland area, but the rain was back in October, hitting 0.48 inches above normal.

"There are always a lot of variables in rainfall for specific spots throughout the region," Taylor said, "but in general, August, September and October were wetter than average throughout Oregon."

Then came November and wet and wild turned into dry and mild, said Taylor, a faculty member in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Precipitation totals at Taylor's home base in Corvallis show 12.08 inches of precipitation from October 2004 through January 2005. That's the seventh driest such period on record for the Corvallis area since records started being kept in 1889, he said. In a normal year, precipitation would total 23.85 inches during the four-month span.

Statewide, it was the same story, except in southeastern Oregon, which actually has done better than the rest of the state this winter, Taylor said.

"Ironically, southeast Oregon has been the driest part of the state for the last several years," he pointed out. And while the dry weather has made everyone from farmers to municipal water managers nervous, if history repeats itself, the state may escape water woes this summer.

"We don't even need a particularly wet spring," Taylor said. "For example, 15.58 inches is the normal rainfall for February through May in Corvallis. If we got 10 to 12 inches of rain or more for that period, it would probably be OK - it would help a great deal."

Even Oregon's dismal snowpack, which is at 32 percent of normal in early February, while disheartening, isn't necessarily ruinous.

"We still have time for it to build," Taylor said, explaining that snow typically accumulates in Oregon's mountains until April 1.

"We certainly are not going to make up our current deficit. But a wet spring accomplishes much the same thing because it's coming closer to demand."

Timing is the key for this season, Taylor said. Oregon needs to receive the water just prior to demand. And demand creeps up as late spring blossoms and municipal and agricultural water use leaps.

The Oregon Drought Council meets Feb. 22 to discuss water supplies. Comprised of state and federal representatives, the council will assess the issues and then advise Gov. Ted Kulongoski. It appears several counties are already preparing to ask the governor to declare drought emergencies in their regions, Taylor said.

While the winter of 2004-05 has been dry, it's far from lows recorded in 1976-77, the worst since records have been kept. From October 1976 through January 1977, 5.1 inches of precipitation were recorded in Corvallis - 18.75 inches below average, Taylor said.

The second worst year was 1891 when 9.42 inches of winter precipitation was recorded in Corvallis.

In 2001, the fourth driest year on record and the most recent dry year, 10.92 inches of winter precipitation fell in Corvallis. The winter was followed by a very dry spring with only 7.49 inches recorded.

"That was the year that Detroit Reservoir was virtually empty," Taylor said.


George Taylor, 541-737-5694

Horning lecture focuses on history of computer climate models

CORVALLIS - A scientist and author from Tacoma, Wash., will explore the ambitious and mysterious world of computer climate modeling in a lecture on Thursday, Feb. 10, at Oregon State University.

Mott T. Greene, a professor at the University of Puget Sound, will give a talk called "Doing Science When the Noise Is the Signal: The Strange Case of Computer Climate Modeling." The free public lecture begins at 4 p.m. in OSU's Memorial Union Room 206.

It is part of the 2004-05 Horning Lecture Series at OSU, "Scientific Revolutions Old and New."

Greene says computer climate modeling is one of the most ambitious - and unusual - undertakings in modern science. These computer models are virtual objects in a virtual world, yet scientists conduct "experiments" and make "discoveries" through their models.

Most models, he adds, are so large and complex that no single individual can understand how they work, succeed, or fail.

In his talk, Greene will explore the scientific and social forces that have influenced the evolution of computer climate models during the last 50 years - and look at possible future developments.

Greene, who is the John B. Magee Professor of Science and Values at the University of Puget Sound, was recognized in 1996 as the Carnegie Foundation College Professor of the Year in the state of Washington. He is the author of three books, including a forthcoming biography of Alfred Wegener that will be published this fall by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Media Contact: 

History Department, 541-737-3421

Symposium to discuss Measure 37

CORVALLIS - The Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University will host a roundtable symposium this Thursday to discuss the consequences of Measure 37, the initiative passed last year to compensate landowners when certain land use restrictions reduce their property value, or waive enforcement of current zoning laws.

The symposium will be Feb. 3, from 4-5:30 p.m. in Withycombe Hall Room 109 on the OSU campus. It is free and open to the public.

Measure 37 is the greatest departure from land use practices since Oregon's land use planning policies were adopted more than 30 years ago, many analysts say. The OSU symposium will address new challenges Oregon will face in the aftermath of passage of this measure.

Four panelists will participate, including former state Sen. Hector Macpherson, who authored the law that eventually governed Oregon's land use practices; former Sen. Cliff Trow, who witnessed challenges to this law through the 1980s and 1990s; Dick Benner, former head of Oregon's Department of Land Conservation and Development; and Ron Eber, an expert on agricultural land protection and exclusive farm use zoning.

Bill Lunch, a professor of political science at OSU, will moderate the discussions.

The symposium is part of the winter term 2005 lecture series in the Department of Geosciences, titled "Land as Society's Mirror: Human Dimensions of Landscape Change." More information on the lecture series can be found on the Web at http://www.geo.oregonstate.edu/events/seminar_series.htm.

Media Contact: 

Ron Doel, 541-737-1243

Severe Fire Season Predicted for Western U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The newest forecasts of summer drought and fire by researchers at Oregon State University and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service suggest the West is in for a fairly severe fire season, brought on by widespread drought conditions and huge fuel buildups in western forests and rangelands.

By contrast, most of the nation east of the Rocky Mountains should have few or no fire concerns in coming months, the study indicates, even though there may be some continued drought in various places and some fires are already under way in Florida and Georgia.

“Fire is a combination not just of immediate drought stress but also of recent weather years and fuel loads,” said Ronald Neilson, a professor of botany at OSU, ecologist with the Forest Service and one of the nation’s leading experts on the interaction between climate and vegetation.

“There are pockets of drought all over the country, but the coming fire season looks like it could be focused in the West and a very nasty one, worse than normal,” Neilson said. “There could be some fairly large fires.”

Among the areas of greatest fire risk, the latest analysis shows, are much of northern California; southern Arizona and New Mexico; and the Great Basin, especially some hot spots in eastern Idaho and southwestern Wyoming. In the Pacific Northwest, portions of southern Oregon, northeastern Oregon and eastern Washington are projected to have some significant fires. Most of the Cascade Range and Coast Range face lesser risk this year.

Drought predictions are more diverse, showing drought of varying severity in western Oregon and Washington, most of California and the Southwest, Florida, Wyoming, the Northern Plains, and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wetter than normal conditions are expected in the Ohio Valley, Maine, western New York and one area that’s traditionally very dry – the Llano Estacado of West Texas and New Mexico.

Various computer models and programs were used to produce these projections, and there was a pretty strong agreement among different models, the scientists said. This suggests that the level of confidence in the predictions should be reasonably high.

According to Neilson, a moderate El Nino condition – referring to circulation patterns in the tropical Pacific Ocean that affect weather all over the world – seems to be shifting towards a weak La Nina event. Ordinarily, that would produce conditions a little dryer in the Southwest and wetter in the Northwest – but so far, Neilson said, some of the drought conditions in parts of Oregon, Washington and Northern California appear to be very persistent.

Beyond current weather, fire concerns in the West are largely a reflection of recent history, Neilson said.

“We’ve heard a lot of discussion and talk about thinning of western forests to reduce drought stress and improve forest health, but in actual practice that hasn’t occurred on a broad scale,” he said. “Combined with fire suppression or exclusion and a fairly moderate climate in the past 50 years, that has led to extreme fuel buildups and excess biomass in many western forests. There’s a lot of material out there ready to burn.”

The Great Basin also faces concerns, researchers say, based on an invasive species – cheatgrass. This type of grass has often displaced native bunchgrass that tends to stay alive and green longer during the summer, lessening fire risk. Cheatgrass is an annual that dies off during the summer, leading to bigger rangeland fires that also tend to take out sagebrush and the ecosystem associated with it.

Media Contact: 

Ron Neilson,

Multimedia Downloads

Fire Risk Map Drought Severity Map
Researchers from Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service have developed fire predictions (Fig. 1) for the coming summer fire season, based on drought conditions (Fig. 2) and other data. They suggest the West will face a fairly severe forest and rangeland fire season in 2007, while the East will have pockets of drought but almost no major fires.

Scientists, managers outline black-tailed deer decline

CORVALLIS - Black-tailed deer, once numerous throughout the woods of western Oregon, are suffering a population decline, scientists reported at a conference this week at Oregon State University.

The event attracted about 300 wildlife and forest scientists, managers, family forest owners and hunters to explore relationships between deer and elk populations and forest practices in western Oregon.

Habitat change seems to be a main factor in the population decline, although there may be others, such as an invasive louse that spreads rapidly through deer herds.

The sag in population shows up in declining estimates of the deer population and in the lower numbers of deer harvested by hunters in recent years, said presenter DeWaine Jackson of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The elk population has increased in recent years, but there are warning indicators that their numbers may also decline in the future.

According to presenter John Cook, a wildlife biologist with the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, animals that don't get enough of the right kind of food in the summer and fall may not put on enough fat to carry them through the winter in good health. Undernourished females tend to have fewer young. And because the underweight mothers don't have as much milk as the healthy ones, their young also tend to be underweight, making them less likely to survive and thrive.

"We're finding that nutrition from late spring through early autumn is more important than we thought," Cook said.

While disease also has played a role in declining deer populations, the health of big game seems to be closely related to forest management, said Cook. A forest in its early successional period, the first 10 or 15 years, provides the best forage for big game. Both deer and elk prefer the deciduous shrubs and soft-stemmed plants that come in after a forest fire or clearcut. Once the forest canopy begins to close, these plants lose out to less palatable and less nutritious evergreen shrubs and ferns.

"If we want large, productive populations of deer and elk," said Cook, "scientific evidence suggests that there must be a reasonable amount of early-successional vegetation."

Good quality big-game habitat has declined significantly in recent decades, said Hal Salwasser, dean of the OSU College of Forestry. The abundance of early-successional forests that existed during the 1960s and 1970s is either maturing forest now, or it's being managed as plantation forestland, with aggressive weed control to promote fast growth of the trees.

"Federal policy has created mostly late-successional forests on federal lands for the sake of conserving old-growth wildlife," said Salwasser, a wildlife biologist. "However, forests support different species of wildlife during their different successional stages."

The species that prefer older forest are different from the ones that prefer younger forest - not only big game but other mammals and birds, Salwasser said.

"If we want the full range of forest-dwelling wildlife across our landscape, then, as a society, we need to maintain forests at their full range of successional stages," he said.

There is evidence that deer forage may be improved through strategic weed control in forest plantations, according to presenter Liz Cole, a forest ecologist with OSU's Department of Forest Science. In some of the experiments Cole described, the plants that came in after spraying may be better big-game forage than those that were growing on unsprayed sites.

In addition, an exotic louse recently introduced into the Pacific Northwest may be contributing to a decline in the general health of the deer population, said presenter Bruce Coblentz, an OSU wildlife biologist. The louse, first reported in Washington in 1995, is thought to be responsible for the hair loss observed among black-tailed deer in the past few years. Itching from the louse makes the deer bite and chew at the affected patches until their hair falls out.

Conference sponsors were the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Oregon State University, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Forest Industries Council, and Oregon Department of Forestry.

Salwasser praised the recent initiative by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to create a comprehensive wildlife management plan with the involvement of scientists, forest and wildlife managers, hunter and other conservation interests, and the public.


Hal Salwasser, 541-737-1585

Well, Septic System Class and Water Testing Offered

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two free community classes to help people take the mystery out of maintaining and managing their private wells and septic systems will be held in May, sponsored by the OSU Extension Well Water Program.

“If you have a household drinking water well and septic system, chances are that they didn’t come with an owner’s manual,” said Gail Andrews, director of the program and instructor of this class. “And for most rural residents, the opportunity and motivation to learn about these water systems usually comes when something goes wrong. But we can help people protect their homestead investment, their family’s health, and the groundwater resource that supplies drinking water.”

The class, called “Rural Living Basics: Well Water and Septic Tanks,” will be offered twice at the Corvallis Public Library – on either Tuesday, May 22 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., or Wednesday, May 23, from 9-11 a.m.

The class is free, but pre-registration is requested to ensure that adequate materials are available. To register for the class or for more information, contact the Benton County OSU Extension Service at 541-766-3556 or chrissy.lucas@oregonstate.edu

Class participants may also have their water screened for nitrates by bringing about a half a cup of untreated well water in a clean, water-tight container. Nitrate has been associated with a type of blue-baby syndrome, and there are emerging concerns about additional health problems associated with nitrate in drinking water. The areas at greatest risk in the southern Willamette Valley are those with well-drained soils on the valley floor.

Coliform bacteria is the other test recommended for all drinking water wells. This must be done by a laboratory, but under a special arrangement, coliform bacteria testing by Pacific Analytical Labs will be offered to class participants at a reduced cost of $20.

To take advantage of this offer, participants must pick up a special bottle at one of the drop points, return it on the designated day, and test results will be distributed at the class. Sample bottles with instructions are available at: Benton County and Linn County OSU Extension Service offices; LBCC Lebanon Center registration desk; Oregon Department of Forestry in Philomath, and Dari Marts in Monroe and Harrisburg. There are a limited number of bottles.

More information on these topics can be obtained on the web at http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu

Media Contact: 

Gail Andrews,

OSU faculty to hold global climate change symposium

CORVALLIS - Four faculty members from Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences will present a public symposium called "Explaining Global Climate Change" that runs from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25.

The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church at 2945 NW Circle Blvd. in Corvallis.

In their presentation, three OSU oceanographers and one atmospheric scientist will discuss scientific evidence suggesting recent, progressive warming of the oceans and atmosphere. They also will look at how global warming has affected the Arctic regions, how "greenhouse" gases work, cycles of glaciation and related levels of carbon dioxide, and the future of Earth's climate.

Presenting will be James Coakley, a professor of atmospheric sciences; Kelly Falkner, a marine chemist who has conducted several research projects in the Arctic Ocean; Charlie Miller, a professor emeritus and marine ecologist who studies plankton and other biological life; and Alan Mix, a geological oceanographer who looks at climate change over thousands of years.


Media Contact: 

Charlie Miller, 541-737-4524

Shift in deer, elk populations prompts conference

CORVALLIS - A professional conference on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at Oregon State University will explore a significant change that has taken place in deer and elk populations in western Oregon - and the implications this has for forest and wildlife management decisions.

The key issue, organizers say, is that elk populations in this region of Oregon have exploded in recent years at the same time that blacktail deer numbers have crashed, in part due to an epidemic of hair loss syndrome. Experts attending the conference will examine how this dramatic shift in large wildlife numbers might be related to changing forest management practices and also how it might have an impact on future forest operations.

The event is titled "Relationships Between Forestry, Deer and Elk in Western Oregon."

"These are important issues from both a wildlife and forest management perspective," said Rick Fletcher, a professor of forestry Extension at OSU. "We're bringing in leading experts from all over the region to help biologists and forestry professionals understand what is going on, what is causing these changes and what may be some of the options for dealing with them."

Some people point to recent changes in forest management practices on both public and private lands that may be having an impact on these population trends in deer and elk, said Fletcher. As timber harvesting has declined on U.S. Forest Service and other public lands in western Oregon over the past 20 years, deer and elk have moved onto adjacent private lands that are being intensively managed for younger forests.

"Elk in western Oregon tend to travel more in large herds than deer do, and they can step on small trees, they even pull newly planted trees out of the ground," Fletcher said. "In general elk are far more destructive than deer when it comes to forestry plantings. This has led to major concerns by private landowners about the destruction of young forests on lands they are trying to manage."

Meanwhile, an invasive form of deer lice that first appeared several years ago in the Puget Sound area has moved into Oregon, causing catastrophic mortality of up to 50 percent in deer populations. Called deer hair loss syndrome, the exotic lice cause deer to literally pull their hair out, get hypothermia and often die. They are also being displaced from some lands by elk herds.

"Right now, hair loss syndrome is mostly just a problem for the blacktail deer on the west side, but recent studies have shown it can also affect mule deer that are more common in eastern Oregon, so we're very concerned about what may happen to those herds in the future," Fletcher said. "This is a pretty serious issue and a huge change in the historical makeup of our large wildlife."

The conference will explore such topics as:

  • Scientific knowledge about deer and elk in western Oregon;
  • "Forest landscape trends over time, including age class, vegetation and ownership trends;
  • "Interactions between deer and elk and forest management;
  • "Forage species by time of year and age of stand, under different management objectives;
  • "Browse damage and wildlife control measures;
  • "Options for partnerships and management actions.

The event is sponsored by OSU, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Forest Industries Council and Oregon Department of Forestry. It will be at the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center on the OSU campus, beginning at 8 a.m. The conference is designed for professionals but the public may attend, and there is a $30 registration fee. Call 541-737-2329 for more information.

A lunch presentation on "Forests, Deer and Elk: Where Are We Headed?" will be presented by Marla Rae, chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Many other presentations will be made by university researchers, agency management experts and representatives of private industry, and a panel discussion with questions from the audience will be held in the afternoon.

"We have a forest products industry that's trying to survive economically and provide for the needs of public wildlife on their lands," Fletcher said. "At the same time, we have some wildlife with serious disease issues that need to be considered.

"The goal of this meeting is not to find fault," he said. "There are likely no quick and easy solutions to this situation. But we can and definitely need to find some answers, and a future that works for all involved."

Media Contact: 

Rick Fletcher, 541-766-3554